Google “types of saws” and you’ll be peppered with more saws than you could ever hope to have in your personal shop. This is because for many very specific jobs a saw has been created that perfects that singular task so if you’re doing a project, it may help to go out and add a saw to your collection. It all comes down to selecting the right saw for the saw job based on your situation. Depending on how portable you need the tool, how accurate you need to cut, the material you’re cutting, and the general geometry of the cut, a different saw may serve you better. The primary saws available to most people consist of a circular saw, miter saw, tablesaw, bandsaw, jig saw, and sawzall. With this arsenal, you can do most home improvement projects ranging from building a deck or a swing set to framing a wall and cutting crown molding. Let’s go over when each one of these saws would be the right tool for the job.
The circular saw is your best friend when doing rough carpentry outside. Since it’s not mounted like a miter saw or a table saw, you don’t quite get the cutting accuracy provided by the other tools. What it does provide is options. You can get a clean square cut 2×4 with the help of a square and then rip a sheet of plywood using a chalk line, all with the same tool. The circular blade provides relatively clean cuts and can be swapped out based for different teeth based on what you will be cutting. The geometry of the blade also allows you to hold a relatively steady line, and that can be improved with the help of a straight edge. It’s portability gives it an edge for projects that only require a couple of cuts or where you need to be able to cut on site.
A miter saw is basically a circular saw set up on a pivot that helps you control the angle of your cuts. If you are making a lot of cross cuts and need them to be set up at a near perfect 90 degrees, this is the best tool. Examples of good projects for this saw would be cutting 2x4s to length for framing, cutting 2x6s to length for decking, and cutting 4×4’s to length for fence posts. If you set up a block to slide your wood up to, you can cut many boards to the same length without having to remeasure. The frame of a miter saw also allows you to cut very controlled angles. If you are putting up new crown molding, this can make anyone provide near professional results reliably. If you’re installing cross bracing on decks or stairs, you can easily cut boards to 45 degrees. When you think of a miter saw, think of setting a specific angle.
If you’re doing a project and have the goal of ripping a piece of wood as straight as possible, you need a table saw. A table saw, like a miter saw, is basically a circular saw mounted to a special frame work. In this case, the blade sticks out of the top of a table and has a fence parallel to the blade so you can cut as straight as possible. If you’re building something with plywood and need to make the standard 4×8 sheet smaller, say to a 3×6 sheet, the table saw will let you take very straight, square sections off. If you’ve reached the last board on a deck and that 2×6 is an inch too wide, the table saw will let you rip it down to the correct width. The table saw shines making straight cuts longer than the reach of your miter saw.
A band saw can be set up as an invaluable tool for cutting materials like metal and plastic with its wide variety of blades and the fact that the cutting force is always applied down into a table. While it earned a great reputation in the metalworking industry, it has an equally impressive presence in the woodworking industry. The band saw is perfect for making intricate cuts in wood. If you want to follow a curve, this is the ultimate tool. The constant direction, smaller unidirectional teeth, and high speed of the belt also provide a relatively clean cut so you won’t have much sanding or chipping to deal with once the cut is made.
Similar to the band saw, the jigsaw stands out when cutting intricate curved shapes. Due to the reciprocating motion of the blade, the jigsaw provides a rougher cut, as well as a less accurate one, when compared to the band saw. Where the jigsaw stands out is in portability and being able to be stuck in a hole. It is small and portable allowing you to make cuts in places where you can’t get your band saw. Along with that, it has a small blade that is only attached on one side. If you’re cutting the inside out of something, like the inside of a circle, and don’t want to cut through the outside, this is awesome. Simply start by drilling a hole bigger than the blade in the cutout area and then you can stick the blade through and go to work. This is definitely the easiest way to separate a wooden donut from its donut hole without splitting the donut.
The sawzall, or reciprocating saw, didn’t earn that name for no reason. With an assortment of blades, this saw can cut EVERYTHING. That’s why it is a demolition guy’s best friend. Cutting a car in half? This will do it. Cutting nail filled wood? No problem. Rusty pipe in the way or did you love your PVC cutter? That’s easy. Need to take some branches off a tree? Grab the pruning blade. These saws are portable and can do it all. The issue with this saw is that it doesn’t cut curves as well as a jigsaw or a band saw. The geometry will never cut as straight as a circular saw. And the reciprocating motion tears as much as it actually cuts. So while this can definitely make almost any job easier and should definitely be a part of your arsenal, it doesn’t usually provide much value when it comes to finish-cuts.
With a little creativity, this arsenal of tools can do basically anything. Each one serves certain purposes better than others and depending on your job, may be the tool of choice.